Why Are the Elders Following the Youth?
I believe in today’s young generation and I am deeply committed to this young generation, but I do not believe that the older generation should be following the younger generation. To the contrary, young people should be following their godly elders.
There is a reason that 25 year-olds cannot run for president.
There is a reason that 14 year-olds are not given driver’s licenses.
There is a reason that the Scriptures call on the youth to submit to the elders rather than the elders to submit to the youth (see, for example, Leviticus 19:32; 1 Peter 5:1-6).
Of course, that doesn’t mean that young people can’t be wise, nor does it mean that young people don’t have important perspectives on life, perspectives that their elders often miss.
That’s why my ear is always open to young people, especially when it seems that there is a disconnect between the generations.
Wise elders not only lecture, they also listen.
A pastor recently commented to me that when my generation hears the word “homosexuality,” they think of an issue; when the younger generation hears the word, they think of a person. In this case, both perspectives are important, and if we don’t take into consideration both the societal issues and the people involved, we will not have God’s heart and mind in full.
At the same time, it is a terrible mistake to base on our decisions or to make public policy based on how the younger generations feels.
Instead, it is our job to set godly examples for them, to learn to communicate effectively to them, and to do our best to shape their thinking and guide their conduct based on what is right and good.
It is true that the younger generation has more influence today than ever, and it is true that they are often the shakers and movers of our society. But that doesn’t mean their perspectives are right or mature, nor does it mean that, rather than setting the path for them to follow, we should start following them.
Whoever came up with such an idea?
To be clear, I’m talking as a leader in the Church, where the Scriptures set the standards for us and where children are called to honor their parents and youth are called to honor their elders. I’m not expecting your average non-believer to show the older generation that respect (although, before the 1960s, your average young person was taught to show that respect). Yet even in the Church, such respect is often lacking because of the over-exaltation of youth culture today.
To give you a case in point, a younger colleague of mine is good friends with a well-connected leader who hosts major conferences for young adults, and this colleague urged him to have a nationally known speaker address the conference. (The speaker was in his late 50s.)
His friend replied, “That wouldn’t work, because the speaker is too old. They’ll hear it better from their peers.”
Do we realize how wrong this is?
A good youth leader will inculcate a spirit of respect and honor for the older generation as well as for authority figures in general, to the point that they would consider it a special privilege to learn from an older man or woman of God rather than thinking, “What’s that old geezer got to teach me?”
That kind of attitude is totally out of line, not to mention terribly destructive.
To repeat: I believe in this younger generation and I’m deeply committed to this younger generation, and I hold young people in high esteem.
Since 1983 (when I was pretty young myself), I’ve poured into college-age young people on an almost weekly basis and, to be honest, I’m with them so much and I feel so youthful in heart, mind, and body that I’m always surprised when I look in the mirror and see how old I look. (Seriously.)
I’m in touch with young people day and night through social media, and I have plenty of open doors to minister to them, so in no way do I feel shut out or cut off. And I absolutely believe that young people can do mighty exploits for God.
One of my spiritual sons, Daniel Kolenda, who now heads up Christ for All Nations (which was founded by Reinhard Bonkke), led millions of people to faith in Jesus before he turned 30, and he is one of many being used by God at a young age. (Some are even younger.)
In that same spirit, Paul instructed Timothy to let no one despise his youth (perhaps he was in his 30s too) but to set an example for the Body (see 1 Timothy 4:12).
The problem is the mentality of our culture, which has turned things upside down in a destructive and harmful way.
When our daughters were in their mid-teens (they’re now in their mid-30s, each with two kids), they told my wife Nancy and I that we were too strict and that they didn’t like our household rules. I told them, “I want you to make a list of everything we’re doing wrong as parents and then to write out what the rules should be, and I want you to look at the list once you have you have your own kids.”
We laugh about it today (their kids range from 14 to 8), since their list included things like, “No curfews and no restrictions.”
That’s why parents raise children rather than children raising parents, and that’s why a few years ago, our older daughter said to Nancy, “I’m so glad you raised me the way you did.”
Last week, I spoke to 2,000 teens and young adults at a conference in Singapore, and I asked them, “If it was up to you, would you have no mandatory school, classes and tests?” They responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!”
But of course. They’re young people.
The fact is that the same generation of Christian young people that is much more “tolerant” about things like homosexuality is also dreadfully illiterate biblically, also having lower moral standards in general. (I fault the parents and pastors for this more than the kids.)
Why should we be following their lead?
To be sure, we should try to see the world through their eyes and be sensitive to the valid perspectives they have, especially when it comes to issues of social justice. But having done that, we should now help them integrate those perspectives into a biblical world view.
When I was a hippie teenager, one of our mottos (spoken or unspoken) was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” You can see where that got us, and you can see how unbiblical that is. (For some excellent reflections on this, with important insights from the Scriptures, see “On the Value of Being Older” by cultural commentator Bill Muehlenberg.)
The fact is, our perspectives change over the years (in other words, it is not inevitable that the younger generation will hold to the same value system or worldview when it becomes the older generation), and a society that follows the counsel of the youth and scorns the wisdom of the elders is a society headed towards self-destruction (see 1 Kings 12).
Thankfully, it’s not too late to turn the tide in America and beyond, but that means that we of the older generation need to get our acts together and, with wisdom, maturity, sensitivity, and compassion.
Elders must live lives worthy of the respect and honor of the youth — people who are called by God to be world-changers in the best sense of the word — if we can help them find their way.
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